A new trend in school vending is helping students save time while eating healthy meals

smart-vending-machinesViviana Sanchez surveyed the long lunch line at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., and pondered her options.

She was glad she had options.

Instead of waiting forever in the cafeteria line for a less-than-appetizing meal, the sophomore strolled over to a vending machine and had her lunch within seconds.

“I like this better,” Sanchez said after pulling out a yogurt parfait and chocolate milk from Star Food Healthy Express machine. “This tastes better, and it’s quicker to get.”

Northeast is one of about 40 middle and high schools within the Broward County Public Schools system that have vending machines distributed by Fort Lauderdale-based VE South in their cafeterias. The company began with just two Broward high schools in January 2012 but has been growing rapidly ever since.

The vending machines serve as an alternative to getting lunch from cafeteria staff, said Joe Gilbert, vice president and general manager of VE South. They save time in a student’s busy day and provide a healthier alternative, he said.

Unlike most traditional vending machines, the Star Food Healthy machines in schools don’t take money in exchange for food. Each student has his or her own code number, and the machines are programmed to know if a student is eligible for free or discounted meals.

(Next page: How many vending machines are in schools?)